Tim Etchells: A star is porn

Marie-Anne Mancio

Tim Etchells, Star Fucker

Tim Etchells, Star Fucker

Starfucker: someone who fucks stars, fucks up stars, or has an obsequious relationship with them? Tim Etchells’ short digital film comprises only white text on a black screen to the soundtrack of John Avery’s music. Titles appear and fade. There are lines that could describe scenes from existing movies (“Gene Hackman holding a gun”); and others that sound like mischievous wishful thinking (“Mel Gibson in excruciating pain”). Many could be magazine headlines (“Woody Allen fucking twins” belongs on the cover of the National Enquirer, surely.) The scenarios are often absurd and irreverent. Common to them all, is the use of famous performers’ names.

Etchells is a member of Forced Entertainment and celebrity has featured in their work before. Their durational installation Twelve a.m. and Looking Down made use of cardboard signs which said things like “Telly Savalas down from the cross”; Etchells’ book Endland Stories introduced us to fictitious movie star Natalie Gorgeous. And it could be argued that Etchells is a celebrity of sorts himself on the Live Art scene. Actors can become interchangeable with their roles, as can popstars with their personae. Etchells’s film highlights the confusion of real and represented. For example in one of the text scenarios Morgan Freeman plays the computer game Doom at Level 5 and, coming to the realistion that the figure he’s been chasing all night bears his own face, fires at it anyway until the screen turns black. Equally, Etchells references the sometimes intrusive extra-textual information that informs our viewing of films: “Christopher Reeves in a wheelchair.”

In Starfucker, the conventions of the classic realist text are nominally followed. We have film titles and credits; names (like Marlon Brando) that re-appear in the context of different scenarios (are these the main characters?); and music that mimics that of Hollywood epics (harp crescendos, drum rolls, the clash of cymbals). Yet unlike the passive viewing experience common to the majority of cinema, Etchells’ work is closer to interactivity. We are given a setting, performers, action, but no visuals. So, like directors, set designers, costume designers, make-up artists etc, we invent our own visuals. “Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone sharing a shower”: what kind, I wonder? Is it a needlepoint shower in a room with glass walls and a view of the black desert sky? Or a dribble of water behind the mouldy curtain of a suburban bathroom? The more explicit and unlikely the images become, the more they seem to reflect our obsession with fame and with the visual. We are seduced by both in our thirst to always know more, see more. Was Etchells teasing us when he chose Hugo Glendinning (known for his beautiful photo-documentation) to video record the text? The work piles up celebrity upon celebrity (in a sexual sense in some cases) in an almost pornographic excess. But, like porn, it leaves us unfulfilled.

5 February 2006